Under Her Eye: Waste Labs

On June 1st, 2018 I had the pleasure and privilege to be part of Under Her Eye: Women & Climate Change.

This two-day event was held in London at the Knowledge Center at the British Library and it brought together different female voices from across several disciplines to discuss issues around climate change.

The event’s ambassador was writer Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaiden’s Tale among many other books. The purpose of this event was to gather insights on the most pressing issues that relate to the challenges we are facing and will face in the future due to climate change.

Below is the transcript of my talk as part of the panel discussing Health, Well-being and Future Cities:


“Hello, my name is Diana Simpson Hernandez, I am a product designer, lecturer and entrepreneur. In the last few years I’ve worked as the Head of Industrial Design for a social enterprise creating music products that generate clean energy and educational products for some of the world’s off grid areas, particularly in India and Africa, and I’ve also worked as a material designer creating new products using waste materials focusing on generating new business models, so my work for the last few years has been about creating social value through design.
The project I will share with you today is not only very relevant to today’s panel discussing Future Cities, but it also highlights different ways in which designers can make positive social impact and take a more active role in the process of policy making.
It begins by studying government policy documents and finding loop holes where design could do things better.
The seed of this project began a few years ago during my time at the Royal College Of Art, where I had this constant idea that designers should be more involved in the process of policy design and I wanted to create a methodology that would enable me to test this.
In the next 10 minutes I will take you through how the Waste Labs concept was born and explain a bit about this approach.
The whole premise of the project is based on the perspective that we discard what we don’t value. If we don’t see value in something, we want to get rid of it. And that is essentially the underlying problem with waste today, we fail to find continuing value in what we throw away.
Basically, it’s a cultural problem, and through this project I wanted to try and address this.
I was very interested in tackling issues around urban waste and how to change the culture surrounding waste in general. So I chose to use the Mayor of London’s Business Waste Strategy as the starting point of the project.
Some of the figures in this strategy have changed, this was a policy document published in 2011 and it was very much still relevant in 2013 when this project was started.
 But in general terms, I found that the vast majority of business waste in London came from SMEs. And this paired with the projection that urban population around the world will increase to about 66-70%  by 2050 this could create a perfect storm in terms of waste.
Some of the key findings were that a lot of small businesses around London were not recycling through the business waste stream. The research showed that some businesses were in areas of the city that were hard to reach by the large waste lorries and often their recycling waste was not being collected because the big lorries were causing traffic jams and were blocking streets and main exit points. So this evidenced a fundamental design problem in the waste collection services.
In terms of the concept, Waste labs are local, urban facilities that use the local business waste as the raw resource to create higher end applications.
There are 5 main business waste streams: food, paper, card, plastic and glass.
I chose to focus on glass because it’s the heaviest, so it uses the most energy in transportation and transformation, but also it doesn’t lose its qualities in the recycling process so it’s a very good recyclable material.
The process of material development started by first taking the material to its essential state, in the case of glass, it’s sand, and from that point on creating some samples to test using different binding systems & determining which uses would work best for different applications.
In terms of how this system works, the local business books a free collection, we send out small vehicles installed with a glass crusher and reduce the glass bottles to 20% of the original volume.
The glass would be taken to the local waste lab facility, where it would be processed and transformed into products.
The products would be installed for use in public spaces. After some time, these could be recycled again in the local facilities.
The final applications were outdoor light bollards and tiles. I used a bioresin as a binder, this meant it could be easily recycled again, the whole process used very little energy and had less carbon footprint.
19 Greek Street Gallery in Soho really liked the concept and invited me to work with them as a Designer in Residence, scaling up the Waste Labs system to create commercial applications.
As part of my residence at the gallery I created surfaces, experimenting with new colours, in particular the Neals Yard Blue sent from their factory discards; I ran workshops taking people through the process and creating show pieces for the gallery’s exhibitions. But in particular I focused on creating bespoke surfaces for one of the gallery’s clients:
The Library Hotel at Saint Martins Lane. For this commission I was asked to create bespoke flooring, surfaces, and furniture, all using the hotel’s bar glass waste.
This project showed that there is a real application for systems of this kind that can run in a local, small radius, use very little energy and engage the local communities in the process.
Here you see the main bar in clear frosted white glass. On the right side its under lit.
Here is the smaller bar top on the second floor in greens and browns, creating a very different mood in that space.
For both bars I created the worktops and back-splashes as well.
These are two toilet rooms.
In total I created about 2000 tiles, mostly for the toilet rooms but also for dinning and kitchen areas.
Library Hotel Glass Waste table
This is one of the table tops in the main bar room.
All made using their own waste.
In terms of the objective of the project, what was most successful about it was that it provided a case study where waste is used as a valuable resource to create high end applications, challenging the perspective of waste as a no value material discard. In effect creating the case for local economies of waste. (which is by no means new, it’s been used in many Global South countries as a way to make a living using waste)
Waste Lab's principles
In terms of what drives the concept of waste labs:
  1. Creating local systems of waste reuse
  2. Seeing the intrinsic value of waste  
  3. Using the raw aesthetic of waste to create new visual landscapes
  4. Supporting the new paradigm that seeks a more balanced and harmonious relationship with nature and her resources
  5. Using waste as the source of innovative materials
  6. Creating applications for waste-based materials to shine, so making waste beautiful
  7. Using local waste streams to create local economies that can empower people
As a summary, this method is about placing designers in the middle of the process of policy making, finding areas where there is an opportunity for a fresh approach that can produce innovative business models, tackling problems and broadening the place where designers can make an impact.
Finally, I’d like to finish with the idea that perhaps design today must be more of a material activism. A political, interconnected activity that together with other industries can help envision new sustainable futures for humanity.
designers for humanity
Thank you very much for listening.
Diana Simpson Hernandez
June 2018


Eye GIF from Tenor


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